The technical challenge for Pastry Week on the Great British Bake Off was puits d’amour. A puff pastry base, and choux pastry “well” filled with strawberry and raspberry compote, topped with crème pâtissière and demerara sugar brûléed (is this a word?) with a blowtorch.
Two types of pastry, crème pâtissière and a blow torch.
Here’s what I ended up with.
My custard was a bit on the sloppy side, but the pastry worked. All in all, I was pretty pleased with how puits d’amour turned out. The Bake Off technical challenges have certainly picked up over the past couple of weeks thank goodness.
As usual, I used the recipe for the puits d’amour from the Great British Bake Off website. Here’s how I made them.
Step One – Rough Puff Pastry
I’ve tried puff pastry numerous times. At the beginning of Let’s Bake the Books I had a go at eccles cakes with flaky pastry which, according to wikipedia – which must be right – is just another name for rough puff. I made cream horns with rough puff and pasteis de nata with proper puff. In terms of method, rough puff and proper puff are made differently, but I’ve never been able to tell the difference taste and texture-wise.
Anyway, the recipe for puits d’amour called for rough puff. I started by mixing plain flour and salt, then I added frozen salted butter by grating it into the bowl with a cheese grater. Next, I added chilled water, mixed it in with a knife, and used my hand to bring the mixture together into a dough. I used a bit more than the recipe amount of 6 tablespoons. Hopefully, the dough wouldn’t be too wet. I wrapped it in clingfilm and put it into the fridge.
While the pastry was chilling, I made the compote (see below). I wasn’t going to be able to finish the puits d’amour in one day. My plan was to make the rough puff, compote and crème pâtissière on day one. This would leave the choux, the baking and assembly for day two. I honestly do not know how the Bake Off contestants manage to get their stuff baked in the ridiculous timescales they’re given. I suppose they’re not interrupted by school runs and people on the phone telling me that I’ve had an accident in the past six years.
Once I’d made the compote, I returned to the rough puff. I rolled it out into a long rectangle, or as close to a rectangle as I could get. For once, I managed to stick to the dimensions given in the recipe (36cm x 12cm). I folded the bottom third of the rectangle into the middle and the top third down. Then I re-wrapped the pastry and chilled it again. I think I may have said before that making puff pastry isn’t too difficult, it’s just that you need to have the time to chill it properly between turns. The pastry went back into the fridge while I made the crème pâtissière (see below). Once that was done, I came back to the pastry. I rolled it and folded it once more and put it into the fridge for the night. It looked pretty good.
Step Two – Compote
To make the compote I put some hulled strawberries into a pan with some caster sugar and lemon juice and heated them up for ten minutes. Next, I added some raspberries and kept cooking. According to the recipe, I needed to cook the fruit until I had a thick compote but not a jam. How thick is a thick compote? I definitely took the fruit off the heat before it turned to jam, but perhaps it wasn’t thick enough. It looked as though it would stay within the confines of a pastry well, so I put it into a jar and into the fridge.
Step Three – Crème Pâtissière
As with puff pastry, I’ve made crème pâtissière before (I still wouldn’t class myself as a good enough baker to start calling it crème pât). More often than not, I’ve ended up with scrambled eggs at the bottom of the pan and a few lumps. My approach has been to press ahead regardless, because it usually tastes so nice that no one’s going to notice a few lumpy bits. This is what happened with my Paris-Brest pastries.
This time, I tried something different. I heated some full fat milk in a pan with some vanilla bean paste (the recipe called for a vanilla pod, but I didn’t have one). Instead of mixing my egg yolks, sugar and cornflour together while the milk warmed up, I brought the milk to the boil, took it off the heat and, only then, did I mix the eggs and sugar etc. I added a bit of the milk to the egg/sugar/cornflour mixture and whisked. Then I whisked in the rest of the milk. I kept whisking as best I could as I poured the milk back into the pan and heated it up again. Once I thought the mixture was thick enough – another area where I’m never quite sure whether I’ve got things right – I took it off the heat and poured it into a clean bowl.
The recipe said that I was supposed to sieve the custard at this point. I didn’t. What was the point? I wasn’t using a vanilla pod so didn’t have that to fish out and, for once, there were no lumps and no bits of scrambled egg to deal with. All sieving it would do would create more washing up.
The final step was to stir in some unsalted butter until it melted into the custard. Now, does this mean that the crème pâtissèrie stops being crème pâtissière and starts being something else? I made something along these lines (custard plus melted butter) when I made a fraisier. Edd Kimber, whose recipe I used, called it crème mousseline.
I covered the surface of the crème pâtissière/crème mousseline or whatever it was, with clingfilm to stop a skin from forming. Once it had cooled, I put it into the fridge.
That was all for Day One.
Step Four – Choux Pastry
The choux pastry should really be Step Five, because, before I started it, I rolled out my rough puff and cut out nine 10cm circles. I didn’t manage it all in one roll, and had to cut three out of a second roll-out. I know with normal short crust pastry that you shouldn’t over-work it. This is even more true with rough puff, I suspect. Would I be able to tell which puits d’amour had been rolled out twice? Probably not.
Anyway, on to the choux pastry. I have made it before, I used choux when I made my Paris-Brest, and I also tried it on a one day course at Leith’s Cookery School in another life. According to the Bake Off recipe, you put butter, salt and water into a pan. You heat it gently at first until the butter melts, then bring it to the boil and immediately remove it from the heat.
I vaguely remembered something from the course about the importance of getting the butter mixture to a rolling boil, so I didn’t take it off the heat when it first started to boil. I let it boil properly. Then I took the pan off the heat and added plain flour. I beat the mixture until it had formed a smooth dough.
Now, I followed the Great British Bake Off recipe which says that, at this stage (i.e. while the dough is hot) you beat in egg until the dough is stiff and glossy. I did this, put the mixture into a piping bag and faced the dilemma of whether to pipe while the pastry was still hot. It seemed a bit odd to me. Wouldn’t it melt the butter in the rough puff? Wouldn’t it immediately lose it’s shape?
I waited until it had cooled down a little before I started piping.
I’ve looked up a couple of other recipes for choux since I made the puits d’amour. One from James Martin’s Sweet, and another from Leith’s Cookery Bible by Prue Leith herself and Caroline Waldergrave. Both of these recipes tip the dough out of the pan and let it cool before adding the eggs. Additionally, the Prue Leith recipe gets you to sieve the flour three times before you even think about adding it to the hot butter. Both of these methods would have solved the question of when to pipe the pastry. It would have been cool before it went into the piping bag.
Anyway, I piped warm choux pastry rings onto my rough puff circles, brushed them with beaten egg and sprinkled them with sugar (I didn’t have any of very white sugar nibs that the Bake Off contestants used, but I did have some that I made for my Paris buns ages ago, so I used that).
My puits d’amour went into the oven at 200º fan for twenty-five minutes. I stood watching them for a few minutes, but, since nothing seemed to be happening, I left them to it.
Here’s how they turned out.
Step Five – Assembly
I put the puits d’amour together when we were ready to eat them. You can’t really do it in advance, especially if your crème pâtissière is a bit on the sloppy side. I filled the pastry with the compote and piped some crème pâtissière onto the top. Next, I sprinkled over some demerara sugar and melted it with the kitchen blow torch. Yes, we do have one of these and no, I didn’t buy it. Here are the end results.
Was it Worth It?
As you can see, my crème pâtissèrie was a bit sloppy (although I didn’t pipe the custard on these, the children did them). There were layers in my rough puff though (sorry about the picture quality, I’m really struggling with my camera).
The pastry worked, the compote tasted like the best strawberries in the world and, although the custard was a bit runny, it still tasted great. The only thing that didn’t go down too well was the brûlée on the top. The children hated it, and I could take or leave it.
The puits d’amour were completely worth the effort. I’d like to try them again with a thicker crème pâtissière and I’d like to see if cooling the choux dough makes any difference to the pastry. These beat the ma’amoul for the best technical challenge of the Bake Off so far. I can’t see them being beaten next week. It’s vegan week, and the challenge is to make meringue out of the drainings from a can of chickpeas. I will try to keep an open mind.